ALCOA, Tenn. (July 18, 2016) -- While heavy gunfire and violence escalate in South Sudan, missionaries related to Holston Conference have evacuated and are returning to the U.S.
Rev. Fred Dearing and Libby Dearing, a husband-and-wife team serving in South Sudan since 2011, are expected to arrive July 20 in Chattanooga, Tenn., after spending the last week with other missionary evacuees in Uganda.
“It is with broken hearts that we had to leave South Sudan and our family and friends there, especially under the circumstances in which we left,” Libby Dearing wrote to The Call. “However, it is because of the work God has done through the support of Holston Conference that we have left competent, Christian leaders to carry on while we are gone.”
Libby Dearing, along with physicians Lynn and Sharon Fogelman and nurse Carolyn Goodwin, fled their home base in Yei, South Sudan in a ground vehicle to Entebbe, Uganda on July 11, according to Danny Howe, Holston’s South Sudan mission coordinator.
Fred Dearing had been delayed in the U.S. after surgery -- and was in Entebbe on his way to join his wife in South Sudan -- when the decision was made to evacuate.
“It became apparent that our ability to maintain operations, safety and resources at the Captain’s House was going to be difficult,” Howe said. “Not only was it unsafe for the Dearings, it was also dangerous for the indigenous staff who were enabling those operations to happen.”
The Captain’s House is Holston Conference’s headquarters in Yei, where the Dearings lived and hosted mission teams.
The Dearings, Fogelmans, and Goodwin were among 45,000 who reportedly fled when heavy gunfire erupted July 7, threatening the nation’s capital of Juba. The United Nations reached a critical shortage of basic aid supplies, according to the Washington Post. The most recent battle in a long conflict between the country’s most prominent leaders, President Salva Kiir and Vice President Rick Machar, left at least 300 dead.
Libby Dearing expressed concern for orphans in Holston Conference’s care, about 24 residents of Grace Home for Children and 12 in Green Land Home for Children.
“Justus [Kwaje] has proven so valuable in taking care of the children under very stressful, critical conditions, seeing to their safety and provision,” Dearing said. She described Kwaje’s efforts in trying to reach the children of Green Land when Lainya came under siege.
“Justus was on his way to get the children from Green Land Home when he was stopped and forced to turn back,” she said. “The guards of Green Land took the children two miles into the bush for their protection … When things calmed down a bit, they were brought back and taken to their villages with extended family.”
The children of Grace Home are also safe, and Kwaje and others are making long-term arrangements for their care, Howe said.
“The children are all fine. The cooks, the guards – I interacted with them and all are fine,” Mandela Wani, a consultant to Holston Conference, wrote on July 13.
The leadership shown by South Sudanese mission partners in helping the Dearings and Foglemans to evacuate – as well as caring for the children and facilities -- is evidence that Holston’s partnership in the East African nation has “not been in vain,” Howe said.
“These are people with integrity and strength, and we need to help empower them for leadership in the community, as well as in the church and its mission,” Howe said. “That, along with educating the children in an environment of God's love, is going to make the difference for South Sudan in the future.”
“We have been there [in South Sudan] for 10 years, claiming the name of Christ,” Howe said. “We have no option but to persevere. We represent a God who never leaves us in our darkest hour. We’re certainly going to dig in our heels and continue our ministry in South Sudan, but the coordination of ministry will be from a remote level.”
Holston mission trips to South Sudan have been suspended until the end of 2016, including four teams scheduled for August, September, and October, Howe said.
When the Dearings arrive back in Tennessee, mission leaders will plan and release information about how Holston members can help a nation in turmoil.
“Prayer is important and prayer is primary,” Howe said. “Secondary will be monetary resources that will help ministry happen at a different level.”
As society in South Sudan appears to collapse, “this is the worst of nightmares for the people,” Howe said. “God’s faithfulness to his people will be realized through our faithfulness to them in their darkest days.”
When visiting the children of Grace Home, Wani said he asked for a message to send to the people who are worried about them in the U.S.
“They said, ‘God should protect you, bless you, and send our love to all the people who are supporting us.’”
South Sudan on brink of major humanitarian crisis (World Council of Churches, 7/15/16)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.